Pool Exercise List for Beginners – Easy to Follow Abdominals & Back Workout

Hi! I am Emily – I teach at a verity of aquatic activities at my local recreation center in Silverthorne, Colorado. This photo is from a trip to Lake Superior last summer – I love open water swimming (still new to it). I think water is such a cool modality for wellness – mind, body, spirit. (If you need a lap swimming suit (I go through like 3 a summer I always purchase on ebay overstock because they are so expensive other wise! Here is my ebay link I use: TYR swimsuit.)

This pool exercise list is for beginners. This routine targets abdominals and flexibility through the spine.

The emphasis on the spine is important because we rarely think or focus on the full range of motion our spine offers us in daily life! The muscles in and around the spine contracts forward, back, laterally and transversely (across the body). Back pain is common in all age demographics, and up to 80% of people will complain of back pain sometime in their life (ACSM). Eastern medicine often focuses on spine health as it is really the backbone of life.

This spine workout is gentle enough for people with injury, but also a fantastic wellness routine for bikers/other athletes to heal or increase flexibility.

This workout includes a warm up, cardio set, strength & mobility, and warm down section. It is intended to be done in shallow(er) water. Submerge yourself up to your breastbone for best comfort & results. Hydrafits/bouys are optional and not necessary.

Warm-up your body for more intentional and intense work. Aim for 10 to 15 minutes of water walking and the variations below (use the length of a pool for each exercise):

  • Walking + open hands pushing forward
  • Walk backwards against your current
  • Jog with your arms pumping “behind you”
  • Jog backwards against your current
  • Tight rope walk – literally imagine you are on a tight rope, arms out to side, legs crossing over the midline of the body in each step
  • Lateral walk left foot lead – arms sweep to the sides, pull legs together, belly button faces long edge of the pool
  • Lateral walk right foot lead
  • Grapevine – still walking sideways through the water, sweep each leg across the other
  • Kick Walk + Twist – kick one leg high to surface of water, then twist upper-body, repeat on each side the whole length of the lane

This cardio section has 3 sections in a circuit. Do each exercise for 45 seconds. Repeat the circuit 1 – 4 times.

Set One:

  • Jumping jack
  • Lunge w/ internal twist (arms out long, literally twist abs/spine) inwards to the leg that is in a lunge. Switch legs. Repeat.
  • Front Hacky – sweep opposite arm and leg to touch hand to ankle cuff, twist and stretch through abdominals.
  • Jog FAST forward and back

Set Two:

  • Criss Cross Jack – similar to jumping jack but cross feet at ankle and jump apart.
  • Alpine Twist – crunch through the abdominals, feet twist one way upper body the other
  • Back Hacky – opposite arm sweeps through water to reach for the heel behind the body for the ankle cuff touch.
  • Jog FAST forward and back

Set Three:

  • Goal Post Arms Jumping Jack – elbows bend at 90 degrees (look like a goal post), open and close arms (works upper back & spine) in a jumping jack.
  • Toe Touch & Sweep – Sweep one leg to surface, long stretch through low back to touch with opposite hand.
  • Alternating front and back hacky.
  • Jog FAST forward and back.

This strength and mobility section is done in repetitions of 8. Repeat each section 2 times.


  • Goddess squat + punches – squat down, feet flat on pool floor, knees turn all the way out to encourage glute strength and core. Squat down (feel your heel) and slowly pull back up. Punch water w/ hands for more cardio.
  • Alternating lunges + biceps curl. Simple forward lunge, but feel your foot firmly plant on pool floor (this is NOT easy, recruit core/back strength to keep you from floating away!). Add biceps curl with arms, keep elbows pulled in.
  • Bird Dog. Opposite arm and leg reach, stabilize (back/core strength) on standing leg. Repeat.
  • Side Bend. Traditional side bend/crunch in water. Keep feet wide, stretch arm down the side. Repeat other side.


  • Water hula hoop – as simple as it sounds, pretend you have a hula hoop on, work through the whole lower spine. Try both directions.
  • Hands on the side of pool, try the following leg lifts/joint mobilities: leg lifts backwards, figure 8s with both legs, full hip circles with knee bent, and cat/cow (standing).

Warm down and static stretch your muscles for 5 to 10 minutes to bring heart rate down, and increase range of motion in your joints. Try this list and add your own favorites:

  • Figure four hip stretch – hands on wall, cross ankle over opposite knee and sink down in squat to stretch low back, hip and glutes.
  • Hamstring stretch on the pool wall, grip gutter with hands stretch legs long.
  • Calf stretch.
  • Pec stretch. Flat hand against wall, twist gently and open through the chest. Gaze over floating arm.
  • Add your favorites! Try some gentle stretches in hot tub & sauna if you have one.

The spine is essential to our daily life. Aquatic cardio and stretch is a gentle but effective way to gain mobility in the spine. Just being in the water increases blood flow to the spine (hydrostatic pressure).

I hope you try this list in the pool next time you go! Just moving through water is so healing for your body. If an exercise does not make sense please email me at mmoravec@css.edu or comment so I can help further. I am working on drawing diagrams to match each exercise. Have a great week.

Happy Swimming – Emily

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